(Zapraszamy do przeczytania rozmowy z Uberto Pasolinim, reżyserem filmu otwarcia tegorocznego Warszawskiego Festiwalu Filmowego. Rozmowa przeprowadzona była przez jednego z uczestników drugiej edycji Krytyków z 1 Piętra w ramach międzynarodowych warsztatów dziennikarstwa filmowego FIPRESCI Warsaw Project.)
On the Matters of Life, Death and Canned Tuna
an interview with Uberto Pasolini
Uberto Pasolini, an Italian filmmaker most famous for his work in the production of "Full Monty", talks about his new movie, "Still Life". The film features an exquisite lead performance by Eddie Marsan, playing the role of a dedicated and orderly funeral officer, John May. "Still Life" tells a tender story about loneliness, death and holding on to life. This dark, yet quietly humorous and wholeheartedly sympathetic movie inaugurated the annual 29th Warsaw Film Festival.
Is there anything in particular that inspired you to tell the story of "Still Life"?
The idea came from reading an interview with a funeral officer in Westminster. Quite often, she was the only one present at the funeral she arranged. I was very much struck by this idea of people who have been forgotten, who fell through the cracks of society. The image of a lonely grave, which is what you can see at the end of the film, was really the image from which my thinking about the movie took off. Initially, the film was supposed to analyze social phenomena, such as isolation and loneliness in the Western world.
Did this investigation become more personal in the process?
Yes, it became an analysis of what it means for me to be alone. Five years ago, I divorced from my wife. Since then, there are evenings when I come back to an empty house: it's dark, there are no noises, no smells and… no life. The film is a way of thinking about how important it is for me to become more interested in other people's lives. Just to exchange an interest in somebody's life – I think it's enriching. If the film wants to make us think about anything, it's about the importance of the continuous communication with other people. Of course, it's an obvious thing to say, especially for young people, but it becomes not so obvious when you get older.
"Still Life" has a gloomy, yet somehow very empathetic, ironic humor. Why do you look for humor in "serious" issues, such as loneliness and death? Does it make them feel less painful?
I like to find humor in various situations in general, especially the humor that belongs to the real world. My favorite films with respect to this specific issue are the movies of the Czech New Wave, where you have both the drama and the comedy of everyday life. My first movie, "Machan", was a film about a very tragic situation of immigrants, and yet the "engine" that we found for the film was that of comedy. "Full Monty" was also about serious issues, such as desperation, unemployment and a father who is unable to feed his own son. In fact, my own father said that it was the saddest film he'd ever seen, but then again, it was also a great comedy. In the case of "Still Life" the "engine" of the movie was not comedic – that would have been inappropriate – but I think that some of the issues in the movie were heavy enough not to be rendered even heavier.
The main character of your movie lives a very still, orderly life. Are there any tangible similarities between you and John May or do you connect with him on a more abstract, emotional level?
The central character is just like me. We share the same idiosyncrasies: for instance, picking up the crumbs from the table and putting them back in my coffee...
Do you also eat a canned tuna every night?
If you live alone, like I have, you tend to repeat the same things over and over again: you come back from work, hang your coat on the same peg, end up sitting in the same chair by the table, using the same plate and fork that you used the night before. The repetition becomes completely natural when we don't have people who interfere. Of course, somebody might say: "That's impossible, nobody eats a tuna like that!" Well, actually, I do. It's sad, but true (laughs)…
It all goes back to what we were saying about finding comedy in real life. Somebody might say that it's a written piece of comedy. But when it's good, it actually feels truthful in the sense that it doesn't feel like there's a moment that's stuck on top of a real situation. When you watch "Loves of a Blonde" by Miloš Forman, you see an absolutely extraordinary comedy, but there isn't even a second of that comedy that feels fake, constructed or forced. The real situations can be funny in themselves, you just have to observe them carefully.
In "Still Life" Eddie Marsan plays his first leading role. Why did you decide to choose him for the role of John May?
I had worked with him before, in a film about Napoleon I made about ten years ago. In this movie, Eddie had six lines and three scenes, and in these six lines and three scenes he managed to create a complete human character. It was absolutely wonderful. Not only he was a real person, but through his interaction with other actors, he gave them a human side too. A great talent that Eddie has is to be able to convey very powerful, complex emotions with his "acting volume'' down. When he works, it's always about the story, the character or about what the director is after, and not about his own performance. I think he's the best thing in the film.
In its style your movie seems very British, but I know that you disagree with that opinion.
I think the grammar of the film is not British. My frames of reference are not British as well. I spent a year watching old Japanese films, mainly Yasujirō Ozu's. The fantastic thing about him is that he shows you how you can be extremely powerful by keeping the volume of your movies down. In general, I think it is quite easy to shock the audience with dramatic situations and "scenery-chewing" performances. I think that this style of filmmaking might capture you for a few hours, but it doesn't stay with you, because it's so different from your normal experience. Ultimately, you'll forget it, because it's completely irrelevant to your life. I know that if you turn the volume down you'll lose some people completely, they'll never get into your world. But if they'll stay with you, they'll pay closer attention, they'll focus and remember more.
The Polish title of your movie is very unambiguous. "Zatrzymane życie" literally means a "Stopped Life". The original title, "Still Life", is much more problematic. Would you say that the movie is about something that is motionless or dead, and that is why it is "still", or that it is about something that "still" exist, in the sense that it does not end with death?
The title plays on the ambiguity of the word. It's a "still life" because it's not moving and it's "still life" because it's still a life, in spite of the fact that it's not moving. It's also a "still life" because it's a life made out of photographs and because the camera pictures it that way: for instance, when we leave an apple in the middle of the table, we frame it like it's a little fifteenth-century Dutch painting.
For me the film is about life, it's not about death. It's a film about recognizing other people's lives, which is what the central character does. When May collects all these little things in people's apartments and writes a eulogy, he wants to remind the indifferent world that this particular person had a life, and that this life has to be recognized before it's forgotten forever. What is important, is that May is not a sad character. He's different from us and we may wish that his life was better, but he doesn't feel lonely. He's solitary. We shouldn't judge him or his neighbor with regards to our own notions of a successful life. His neighbor died lonely, but he also lived: he was a good friend, he had children and saved somebody's life during the war. There are different ways of living. We should recognize the importance of other people's lives and try not to judge them so much because no matter what it may look like, what they are living is still a life, and it's as valuable as ours.